I love games about space—from combat heavy space sims to games that try to recreate real-life space exploration. Science fiction is great, but when a game manages to be about space and be historically accurate, it’s like a double whammy of awesome. Recently, we had the opportunity to sit in on a conversation with the developers—Auroch Digital—and a member of the European Space Agency who consulted on the making of the game. As a result of consults like these, Mars Horizon does a little bit of both— historical accuracy with a little bit of science fiction thrown in. It is a historically-minded game that puts you into the international space race, rather, an alternate history space race. But it’s not just the moon you’re aiming for, as the ultimate goal is to expand space exploration to the greater Solar system, with the holy grail of a manned Mars mission on the horizon.
Mars Horizon is a management game with a little bit of strategy and simulation mixed in. The goal is to lead a space agency from its first steps of an inaugural rocket launch to the ultimate goal of sending manned missions to Mars—but there are a lot of steps in-between. And you’re not the only space agency out their vying to be the first. NASA, the ESA, Japan, China and the Soviet Union are all trying to get their rockets to new celestial bodies. With more players in the field, it’s an aggressive space race, but Mars Horizon isn’t just about competing for firsts—you can also choose to share technology with other agencies in the name of diplomacy. The developers explain it as “competitive/cooperative.” If you want to cooperate, you can.
Different agencies mean different technologies based on real-world examples. Japan, ESA and China may not have been involved in the early Moon race as they are in the game—but the technologies you field are based on historical fact. For instance, the Soviet Union’s space shuttle program floundered in real life, but you can change history and make it a reality. Different agencies also have different inherent bonuses. Of course, if you don’t like the default countries, you can customize almost everything, from the name of the location of mission control, to bonus traits, and even diplomatic relations. In fact, Mars Horizon allows you customize almost every aspect of the game to suit your playstyle—from resources available to how competitive the other agencies will be.
Mars Horizon isn’t just about the rockets—it’s a whole agency simulation. if you want to be able to design rockets, that is definitely a part of Mars Horizons—just don’t go in expecting Kerbal Space Program. The emphasis here is on building up your agency, doing research, and running the missions. The developers say they “share a theme, love and interest of space” but while in Kerbal Space Program you take direct control of the crafts, Mars Horizon gives you the role of someone who is making it all happen from mission control.
Every aspect of running a space agency is simulated in Mars Horizon, but according to the developers it’s done in such a way that a “normal person” can do it–which is perfect, because I’m definitely not a rocket scientist. Even so, putting together a launch vehicle requires the ability to read stats, and putting together a mission is all about risk mitigation. If you don’t quite have the technology to, say, achieve an orbit around the moon you’ll have to research it. If you don’t have a large enough Launchpad, or facilities to train astronauts, you’ll have to build those, too. With a consultant from the European Space Agency, developer Auroch Digital has made the most comprehensive video game space program I’ve seen.
What if Japan was the first to get a man on the moon? What if the Soviet Union actually played nice with the other superpowers and willfully traded information? What if NASA didn’t stop after the space shuttle, and instead kept planning until they had a man on Mars? If you’re a space nerd like me, and those questions haunt you, then Mars Horizon could be the catharsis you need as you’re given the chance to play out these exact scenarios and more. Or you can take control of the ESA or other space agency not involved with the original moon race and get to the lunar surface first. Mars Horizon is a management game that’s also a sandbox for “what if?” space scenarios, and that’s definitely a concept I can get behind.
Mars Horizon will be available this year. In the meantime, you can check out the demo that released today on Steam.
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